COLM O'REGAN: The fact that I’m wistful for the days when adults could physically assault children with impunity would suggest I am a natural fit for my new age group, the 40s

“WHAT are you going to do about it?” He had a point. The no doubt necessary rebalancing of rights, between adults and children, means there’s very little I can do about a couple of small boys squirting water at me in a park.

I am not within my rights to deliver what would be known in Cork as a funt up the backside or to throw their super-soakers over a wall. Or call Lugs Brannigan, the legendary Dublin policeman and exponent of summary justice, to hand out an ear-boxing. Those days are gone, both from a criminal and litigation perspective. Any young lad receiving so much as an ‘eff off’ could get a battery of shrinks to diagnose PTSD and emotional distress.

Anyways, the two boys were fairly confident I wouldn’t be able to catch them. They said as much. And I quote: “You won’t catch me and him; you’re too old.” Maybe they guessed my sore spot on the matter, as I had just that week turned 40.

By the way, the correct thing to say to a new quadragenarian is: “I am conflicted. You have achieved so much, that I can’t believe you are only 40. Yet, you look so young, I’m surprised that you are as old as 40.”

It’s been a fortnight now and I’ve come to terms with 40. The fact that I’m wistful for the days when adults could physically assault children with impunity would suggest I am a natural fit for my new age group.

This milestone has removed some pressure. I never have to worry, now, about not appearing on lists of ‘X Number Of People Under X Age Who Are Doing Way More Than You, You Waster’.

You never see any list of ‘50 People Under 50 Who Hung In There And Kept Their Head Down And Are Grand, Ah, You Know Yourself, Just Taking It Handy At This Stage’.

When I see young people doing amazing things for their young age, I am consoled. Donald Glover is the star of two new Star Wars, and is writing and acting in a critically acclaimed TV show, Atlanta. As Childish Gambino, he is becoming the male Beyonce, with his video, ‘This is America’, in which he lays America bare and also, it seems, can dance well; eventually, Donald Glover will be 40 and no one will give him any credit again.

I can already sense my stepping-back. I watch debates on social media between friends who are younger and cleverer and use words like praxis and dialectic and I keep meaning to look up those words, but I just don’t have the time or the inclination and, anyway, we are out of milk.

It’s like I don’t trust the hamstrings in my brain. They could give at any second, as soon as I break into a mental sprint. Where will this end? Will I take up golf and have conversations with Live At 3-aged men and women in comfortable trousers about how “one side is as bad as the other”, even though they’re clearly not?

But a good thing about this age is the comfortable embrace of Dad-mode. You don’t even need to be a parent to be it. It’s that keys-jangling, ‘where-will-we-get-parking?’ constant fretting about logistics. But also a heightened radar for someone needing help. Soon after the super-soaker standoff, I was leaving the park with the baby and the same chungfla who pointed out my age was stuck on top of the playhouse at the playground and seemed distressed. Now was the perfect opportunity to grab his super-soaker and take him out. But over-40 me, Dad me, contemplating-buying-a-belt-clip-for-my-phone me took over.

“Does he want help?” I asked his accomplice.

“Yeah, please! Ryan, the big boy will help you down! (‘Big boy’ — thanks young man.)

I held out my arms and the young lad jumped down from his perch and l shock-absorbed him gently to the ground and walked off. They were wrong. I wasn’t too old to catch them. I was exactly the right age.


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